Mary Lou was born in the mountains outside of Chihuahua, México. There were 8 children in her family. Her mother died when her last sister was born, and Maria was 6 years old. Her father was killed a year later at a party. She and her siblings moved to Los Mochis, Sinaloa, México to live with an uncle, after her older siblings had sold all the animals on her parents's farm, in order to survive. Her oldest sister came to first to relatives in Mexicali, México, then to Los Angeles, and finally to San José and married. Then Mary Lou, who was 24 years old, and 3 other sisters, joined her older sister, who was 38 years old, in San José in 1961.
Mary Lou first began cleaning houses, then she began work at Del Monte Plant #3 in 1963. She worked at Del Monte Company Plant #3 from 1963 to 2000. Her sister, sister-in-law and mother-in-law all worked at Del Monte. Mary Lou waited 17 hours a day, from 6 am to 11 pm for a month, until she got hired on the 3rd shift (graveyard) from 10 pm to 6 am.
When she started work, the company changed her name from Maria Luisa, to Mary Lou. She wore a hair net, plastic helmet and at first pants, and then later a white uniform. She started worked on the line sorting apricots, then she moved to peaches. She never worked cocktail. She wanted to learn English, so she took night classes at the local junior high school for 3 years.
Later she worked in the cookroom canning spinach, she then moved on to the warehouse, where she made the most money as a fulltime year-round pallet worker and tag writer worker. In the canning lines, most of the floorladies and the highest supervisor were Italian women, who pushed the line workers hard. Most of the Italian floorladies liked Mary Lou and helped her out. Gradually Mexican women began moving into the floorlady positions.
In the warehouse, the supervisors were men. Mary Lou thought her warehouse supervisor was very difficult. She describes bringing her lunch during the seasonal work 2nd shift, which was the primary shift she worked while her kids were growing up. She didn't like American sandwiches, so she would bring leftovers from home. A retired Mexican Del Monte worker, helped to watch her kids in the summertime while Mary Lou worked.
Mary Lou describes her day, preparing the meals, washing diapers, and getting things ready for the babysitter by 1 pm, when Mary Lou had to go off to work. She also describes the end of season parties. Mary Lou met her husband in Santa Clara Valley. They had help from one of Mary Lou's past American house cleaning clients, to buy their house in Santa Clara. It was from this client that Mary Lou learned that where you live in an area, can affect the type of education your children receive. All of her children went on to college, and her daughter has a doctorate.
Part of the San Jose Del Monte Cannery Oral History Project, conducted by the Community Heritage Partner's Cherries to Chips Project in partnership with History San Jose, sponsored by KB Homes, Inc. Interview by Margo McBane and Joseph Rivera; Videographer Richard Romero, Video Editor Brea Romero,